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Migrant rescue ship to dock in Malta after five days stranded at sea

Migrant row rages on in Europe as hundreds continue to attempt dangerous Mediterranean crossing
More than 1,000 migrants have died or disappeared at sea in 2018, according to UN figures (AFP)

A migrant rescue boat, which had waited five days in the Mediterranean with more than 230 migrant passengers on board, has been permitted to dock in Malta on Wednesday.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said in a press conference in Castille that the Lifeline was expected to reach the country later on Wednesday evening. 

Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Ireland, Belgium and France have agreed to receive some of the migrants, Muscat said.

The dispute over the ship, stranded at sea for nearly a week, came after Italy and Malta refused earlier this month to accept another rescue vessel which was carrying over 600 migrants.

Eventually, Spain agreed to take the Aquarius, which arrived on 17 June.

The Lifeline picked up 234 people off the coast of Libya last Thursday and has remained at sea as Italy and Malta have again refused to allow the vessel to dock.

Although the ship is operated by a German NGO, called Mission Lifeline, Berlin will not participate in the deal to take migrants as Chancellor Angela Merkel comes under pressure from conservatives.

On Sunday, a group of five European politicians spent a night on the ship in an effort to secure a deal to end the standoff.

Speaking on Wednesday, Muscat accused Lifeline of switching off its transponder and said the ship would be impounded pending an investigation.

Italy's far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, told foreign charities on Sunday to stop rescuing migrants off Libya.

Earlier, Salvini referred to rescued migrants as “human flesh” on Facebook, prompting NGO Mission Lifeline to hit back on Twitter. 

The debate over migration continues among EU member states who will hold a meeting starting on Thursday to discuss opening migration concerns, including a proposal to set up detention centres in North Africa.

Arrivals to Europe dropped by nearly half between 2016 and 2017, according to UN figures, with 43,096 sea arrivals recorded in the Mediterranean thus far in 2018 compared to 172,301 in all of 2017.

At least 1,063 migrants have died or are missing in the Mediterranean in the first half of 2018 alone, UN figures showed.

The sharp drop in arrivals is seen as tied to tougher migration policies by European states, as the far-right governments in countries such as Italy have been fuelled by anti-immigrant discourse.

During a meeting in Brussels on Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron and Merkel vowed to forge ahead with like-minded leaders on ways to reduce migrant flows and share responsibility for those who land on Europe's shores.

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